Throughout the first seven games of the season, the Patriots remain one of the best offenses in the league. With Tom Brady, Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski all on pace for big seasons, New England has the second-best passing offense in the league (324.7 yards per game) and the third-best total offense (437.1 yards per game), all of which has added up to 28.9 points per game, the fifth-best total in the league.
At the same time, the Patriots have struggled defensively -- New England is 32nd in the league in total yards allowed per game (424.1) and pass defense (yielding an average of 323.1 yards per contest). In addition, the Patriots are allowing almost eight yards per play, 31st in the league.
With those kind of numbers, what are some realistic expectations for this year’s Patriots team? While it’s fairly certain that it will at least make the postseason, how far can a team that is so statistically unbalanced get? To get a sense of what might await the Patriots, we took some suggestions via Twitter and went back over the last 30 seasons to look at six other teams that also had some fairly dramatic offense/defense splits. Here’s what we found.
The 2006 Colts: The classic case, and the most frequently referenced. With Peyton Manning at the helm, they were one of the most prolific offenses in the league that season, finishing first or second in every major offensive category, including passing yards (4,308), total points (427) and points per game (26.7). Manning had 31 touchdown passes and just nine interceptions, while both Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne both finished with over 1,300 yards receiving.
At the same time, they were one of the worst teams in the history of the league against the run, finishing last in the league after allowing 173 rushing yards per game. (According to Cold, Hard Football Facts, it was the seventh-worst run defense in the history of the game.) They allowed 5.33 yards per carry during the 2006 regular season, the highest regular-season rushing average allowed by any NFL team since the 1961 expansion Vikings gave up 5.41 yards per carry. The Colts allowed 360 points, the first team to ever make the Super Bowl after allowing more than 340 points. They also gave up a 64.3 percent completion rate to opposing quarterbacks, the first Super Bowl champ to allow more than 61 percent completions during the regular season.
What happened: Safety Bob Sanders, who was injured early in the season, returned down the stretch and helped provide a spark for the Indianapolis defense late in the regular season and in the playoffs. The Colts finished 12-4, and went on one of the more memorable postseason runs in history. They fought their way through games against Kansas City, and outscored the Patriots (in the AFC Championship Game) and the Bears (in Super Bowl XLI) on the way to the title.
The 2000 Rams: They were one of the best offenses in recent league history. Coming off their win over the Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV, they scored 540 points (an average of 33.8 points per game), the best total in the league. St. Louis posted an otherworldly 5,232 yards that season, and scored at least 30 points in 11 games. Marshall Faulk had 2,189 yards from scrimmage, Kurt Warner threw for 3,429 yards and three receivers (Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and Az-Zahir Hakim) all finished with 700-plus receiving yards. As solid as they were on offense, they had major problems on defense. They allowed 471 points (an average of 29.4 points per game), the worst total in the league. They were in the bottom five in every major defensive category, including total passing yards allowed.
What happened: The Rams finished 10-6, but lost a wild card matchup with the Saints, 31-28.
The 1981 Chargers: Air Coryell was never better than in 1981, when the Chargers were first in the league in total points (478), total yards (6,744), passing yards (4,739), passing touchdowns (34) and rushing touchdowns (26). Individually, the 30-year-old Dan Fouts had a career-year in completions, yards passing and touchdown passes, while Chuck Muncie ran for 1,144 and three receivers (Charlie Joiner, Kellen Winslow and Wes Chandler) all had at least 850 yards receiving. Of course, Jack Pardee’s defense also had a hard time stopping anyone. Seven teams broke 400 yards a game on their defense, and the Chargers allowed 390 points on the season (an average of 24.4 points per game, 26th in a 28-team league).
What happened: The Chargers finished 10-6, and won a divisional playoff game against the Dolphins, 41-38, but were bounced in the AFC Championship Game by the Bengals, 27-7.
The 2004 Chiefs: That Kansas City team had the unlikeliest quarterback of any team on this list, as the eminently forgettable Trent Green was under center. But Green had one of the best seasons of his career, leading the Kansas City offense in style. The Chiefs led the league in total yards per game (418.4), were second in total points (483) and points per game (30.2), and in the Top 5 in almost every other major category, including passing yards and rushing yards. Kansas City could really run the ball -- Priest Holmes, Larry Johnson and Derrick Blaylock all had at least 500 yards rushing. Meanwhile, Tony Gonzalez, Eddie Kennison and Johnnie Morton all had at least 750 yards receiving. On defense, Kansas City allowed more than 400 yards seven times, and a league-worst 4,203 passing yards. They yielded 435 total points, an average of 27.2 points per game, 29th in the league. (Of course, Monty Beisel started nine games at linebacker for the Chiefs that season. Just sayin.)
What happened: The Chiefs lost four of their first five and finished 7-9, good for third place in the AFC West.
The 2009 Saints: Buoyed by Drew Brees, that team was offense on-demand, piling up 510 points and 6,461 total yards, both best in the league that season. New Orleans had six games of at least 38 points that year, including a 38-17 win over the Patriots at the Superdome that November. Brees complete 71 percent of his passes for 4,388 passing yards and 34 touchdowns. At the same time, they were in the bottom third of the league in total yards allowed (as well as passing and rushing). The biggest saving grace of the New Orleans defense was an uncanny ability to force turnovers -- the Saints had 39 takeaways that season (26 interceptions), second best in the league, and frequently gave the offense a short field to work on.
What happened: The Saints essentially outscored teams in the postseason -- they allowed 20 points a game in the playoffs and put up an average of 36 a game -- on the way to beating the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, 31-17.
The 2008 Chargers: Behind Philip Rivers, Ladainian Tomlinson, Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates, the 2008 Chargers were the second-highest scoring offense in the league. They scored 439 points (trailing only New Orleans), and were in the Top 10 in every major statistical category on offense. (Around here, they are perhaps most well known for an epic 30-10 beatdown of Matt Cassel and the Patriots.) The Chargers scored 30 or more points in seven games that season, and they had at least 48 points in two games. On the other side of the ball, the Chargers were 31st in the league against the pass (allowing 247.4 yards per game) and 11th in the league in stopping the run (102.6 yards per game).
What happened: The Chargers finished the regular season 8-8, but upset Indianapolis in the wild card round of the playoffs, knocking off Peyton Manning and the Colts, 23-17. Their run came to an end with a 35-24 loss in the divisional round to the Steelers in Pittsburgh.